The Professor in charge of the Smoke Free Greece directive of the Hellenic Cancer Society, Dr Panagiotis Behrakis, received an award by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, May 25, in recognition of his efforts in the global anti-smoking movement.
The award was presented to Dr Behrakis during a special event in Ljubliana held ahead of the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), which is celebrated on May 31.
Beyond serving as the Director of the Institute of Public Health of The American College of Greece, the Greek pulmonologist-intensivist is President of the Scientific Committee of the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention, member of the Board of Regents of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), founder of “George D. Behrakis RESEARCH LAB” of the Hellenic Cancer Society and investigator at the Biomedical Research Foundation of Athens Academy and focal point of WHO’s World Tobacco Organization for Tobacco Control in Greece.
Anti-smoking campaign increasingly successful in Greece
Dr Behrakis’s directive, named Smoke Free Greece, is on a mission to persuade Greek citizens to stop smoking -and for young Greeks to never begin smoking- through a series of coordinated initiatives organized by the George D. Behrakis Research Lab, the Hellenic Cancer Society and the Institute of Public Health at The American College of Greece aiming to reduce smoking in our country.
A 2021 report by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) showed that Greeks cut their smoking by more than one half over the last decade.
Information gathered from 8,500 Greek households in 2009, 2014 and 2019 suggested that the numbers of daily and occasional smokers decreased by 24.5% and 38.3% respectively, while in the crucial younger demographic, those under the age of 24 are increasingly less likely to smoke.
Smoking appeared reduced by 52.4% overall over the past ten years, with crucial gains in the 14-16 demographic.
At the time of publication of the report, Dr Behrakis had pointed out that the ELSTAT numbers did not square with WHO reports: “They agree with corresponding European reports but raise questions about the sources of the World Health Organization (WHO) which recently stated that Greece appears to be a country of smokers, with a smoking prevalence of more than 42%.”
WHO links tobacco crops to food insecurity
While global anti-smoking efforts are traditionally linked with the health issues suffered by smokers, in this year’s campaign for World No Tobacco Day, WHO also makes a connection between tobacco crops and food insecurity.
It argues that structural causes like the choice of crop also have an impact on the global food crisis and aims to inform about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers in order to encourage them to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable, nutritious crops.
According to WHO, nine of the 10 largest tobacco cultivators are low- and middle-income countries, and 4 of these are defined as low-income food-deficit countries, therefore land used to grow tobacco could be more efficiently used to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 for zero hunger.
Furthermore, tobacco growing is resource-intensive and requires heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers, which contribute to soil degradation, WHO adds.